Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle celebrates Japanese Navy Day on June 4, 1909.

  • By Julie Van Pelt
  • Posted 7/01/2008
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 8680

On June 4, 1909, officers and cadets of the Japanese Navy cruisers Aso and Soya take part in Japanese Navy Day at the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific (A-Y-P) Exposition. The exposition took place on the University of Washington campus in Seattle between June 1 and October 16, 1909. More than three million visitors came from around the state, the nation, and the world to view hundreds of exhibits, stroll the lushly manicured grounds, and be entertained on the Pay Streak midway, while Seattle promoted itself as a gateway to the rich resources of Alaska, the Yukon, and Asia. Each day of the A-Y-P (except Sundays) was designated as a Special Day for one or more groups. Special Days drew people involved in the featured organizations, and the resulting programs, lectures, ceremonies, parades, and athletic competitions gave local people a reason to visit again and again. On Japanese Navy Day, hundreds of Japanese sailors toured the A-Y-P grounds, their presence drawing crowds of local Japanese residents to the exposition. A 38-piece band of cadets gave a concert in the bandstand in Nome Circle, and Japanese Navy participation in the fair extended into the next day. The Japanese squadron stayed in Puget Sound harbors from May 24 to June 12, greeted by ships from the U.S. Pacific Fleet squadron and hosted by the Tacoma and Seattle chambers of commerce, state and local officials, and the local citizenry.

Guests of Honor

On June 4, 1909, the fourth day of the A-Y-P Exposition, the day was "given over to the entertainment of the Japanese sailor" for Japanese Navy Day ("Bluejackets of Mikado at Fair"). "The Japanese officers and men, their fellow countrymen and representatives of the commercial bodies will combine in showing the Japanese visitors a good time in an informal manner," reported The Seattle Times ("Japanese to Be Honored at Fair").

Crewmembers and officers from the Japanese cruisers Aso and Soya, anchored in Elliott Bay, were welcomed by several hundred local Japanese residents as "the exposition grounds took on a decided Oriental appearance" ("Bluejackets of Mikado at Fair").

The "bluejackets of Mikado," as The Seattle Times called the Japanese sailors, took in the A-Y-P attractions, including a morning baseball game between the first and second divisions of the U.S. Pacific Fleet squadron, more athletic events between the U.S. Army and Navy in the afternoon, and a noon luncheon at the Formosa Tea Garden next to the Administration Building. The Japanese sailors themselves put together a 38-piece band and gave a concert at the bandstand in the Nome Circle, bordered by the Forestry Building and the Oregon Building.

The celebration and reciprocal appreciation continued on June 5, Children's Day. A chorus of 100 Japanese cadets accompanied by their band joined the morning program in the Amphitheatre, singing a folk song, and there was an address by an officer of the Japanese Navy. The children's chorus sang the Japanese national anthem.

The Japanese armored cruisers -- the flagship Aso and the Soya -- arrived in Puget Sound a couple of weeks before June 4 and stayed for several days after, anchoring from May 24 to 30 in Tacoma's Commencement Bay and from May 30 to June 12 in Seattle's Elliott Bay. The ships had come from Japan by way of Honolulu and then the ports of Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The vessels carried 61 commissioned officers and 188 cadets and were overseen by Rear Admiral H. Ijichi. Both the Aso and the Soya were former Russian warships sunk by the Japanese during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) and later raised and recommissioned as Japanese naval ships -- the Aso was formerly the Russian cruiser Banyan and the Soya was the cruiser Variag.

Salutes, Balls, and Banquets

The Japanese ships and sailors received a warm welcome throughout Puget Sound -- including 13-gun salutes traded with U.S. ships in both Tacoma and Seattle. When the Aso steamed into Commencement Bay, it traded 13 booming cannon shots with the USS Tennessee, which along with the USS Washington and USS California greeted the Japanese cruisers there. During a similar "exchange of courtesies" ("Reception of Japanese Is Noisy") when the Japanese and American ships arrived in Seattle, Rear Admiral Uriel Sebree of the U.S. Navy asked the Japanese to forgo their salute to him, saying "I guess I have had all the saluting I need. Three times in Tacoma and twice here has meant the burning of enough powder for one man" ("City Greets Mikado's Ships").

In both Tacoma and Seattle, all manner of watercraft swarmed the harbors to greet the ships, and balls and banquets were held in celebration, attended by Japanese and U.S. naval officers, Washington's Governor Marion E. Hay (1865-1933), other state officials, and business leaders of the region.

A banquet at the Tacoma Hotel on May 28 was given by the Japanese consul Tokichi Tanaka, who called attention to Tacoma as having the "largest export trade to Japan of any port in America" ("Japanese Bombard Auditors with Oratory"). On May 29, Japanese and American cadets marched side-by-side with U.S. war veterans before a crowd of 100,000 in Tacoma's war memorial parade.

After arriving in Seattle on May 30, the Japanese officers and crew were whisked off to a garden party at Washington Fair Park, where The Seattle Times reported that 5,000  Japanese greeted them with cheers of "banzai" ("Japanese Guests Given Rousing Reception"). That night, a reception was held for the Japanese officers by Judge Thomas Burke (1849-1925) and his wife Caroline McGilvra Burke, and on June 3 squadron officers attended a military ball at the Armory, where "gowns of the ladies mingled with the glittering uniforms of the officers" ("Military Ball Brilliant Success"). On June 4, Consul Tanaka gave the Japanese officers another reception, also at the Armory, and also glowing with gowns: the society pages were full of blue chiffon and diamonds, imported satin trimmed in rose point lace.

Prominent Seattle civic leaders and businessmen attended these events, as well as hosting the Japanese officers on sightseeing trips. On June 5, Japanese and U.S. naval officers were driven to Snoqualmie Falls by a party that included Judge Thomas Burke, lawyer and real-estate financier William Pitt Trimble (1863-1943), future shipping magnate and banker Joshua Green (1869-1975), and developer James A. Moore (1861-1929), among others.

Japanese residents held various receptions for the cadets -- including daily lunches at the Salvation Army Hall in downtown Seattle -- while the officers made the round of banquets.

Warm Welcome Counters Threats

The enthusiastic welcome extended to the Japanese squadron came in the midst of anti-Japanese sentiment in the United States. As recently as February 1909 the California legislature had passed a bill calling for segregation of Japanese children into separate schools. In May 1909, responding to fears of "the immigration problem in Seattle," the city's U.S. immigration inspector, John H. Sargent, countered claims of a "yellow peril," saying, "We are not overrun with Asiatics, as has been repeatedly asserted." He continued, explaining that Japan's population "is one-half of ours [in the United States], and we are in no danger from her immigration" ("Says Yellow Peril Is Not Great").

A. E. Fowler, founder of the Asiatic Exclusion League, even threatened to dynamite the two Japanese cruisers while they were anchored in Elliott Bay. Though he had previously been judged insane, his anti-Japanese harangues had garnered a following over the years, and his bright red "Fire-the-Jap" labels had appeared up and down the West Coast.

In the days leading up to Japanese Navy Day, these small signs were plastered on Seattle telephone poles, until Seattle Chief of Police Irving Ward directed his officers to arrest anyone seen posting the stickers. "This sort of thing is offensive," Ward said. "The Japanese sailors are our visitors and we should show them the courtesy extended to our boys in Japan" ("Arrest for Posting 'Fire-the-Jap' Labels").

This courtesy is what Japanese Admiral Ijichi experienced. "The officers and men of the Imperial Japanese training squadron feel very grateful for the hospitality and convenience so lavishly afforded them by the commercial organizations, the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition and others," he said in his farewell statement before pulling up anchor the morning of June 12. "No untoward incidents marred the pleasure of the multitude of sailors who went ashore each day, which is solely due to the courtesy and sincerity of your citizens ... We wish you and your citizens a continued prosperity" ("Ijichi Appreciates Hospitality").


Sources: "Arrest for Posting 'Fire-the-Jap' Labels," The Seattle Times, June 1, 1909, p. 10; "Bluejackets of Mikado at Fair," Ibid., June 4, 1909, pp. 1, 2; "City Greets Mikado's Ships," Ibid., May 31, 1909, pp. 1, 2; "Ijichi Appreciates Hospitality," Ibid., June 12, 1909; "Jap Cadets Will Aid School Pupils," Ibid., May 30, 1909, p. 3; "Japanese Guests Given Rousing Reception," Ibid., June 1, 1909, p. 12; "Japanese Officers Entertained," Ibid., June 5, 1909, p. 14; "Japanese Sailors Not Overlooked," Ibid., June 11, 1909; "Japanese to Be Honored at Fair," Ibid., June 3, 1909, p. 1; "Military Ball Brilliant Success," Ibid., June 4, 1909, p. 15; "Police Keep Eyes on 'Fire-the-Jap' Fowler," Ibid., May 31, 1909, p. 2; "Reception Given to Japanese Officers," Ibid., June 5, 1909, p. 14; "Says Yellow Peril Is Not Great," Ibid., May 14, 1909, p. 5; "Japanese Bombard Auditors with Oratory," Tacoma Daily Tribune, May 29, 1909, p. 3; "Japs and Yanks Fraternize on Streets," Ibid., May 26, 1909, p. 6; "Japs Honored Guests in Seattle," Ibid., May 31, 1909, p. 1; "Mammoth Memorial Parade Witnessed by Throng of 100,000," Ibid., May 29, 1909, p. 1; "Naval Reception Is Brilliant Affair," Ibid., May 26, 1909, p. 6; "Reception of Japanese is Noisy," Ibid., May 24, 1909, pp. 1, 2; "Threatens to Dynamite Two Japanese Cruisers," Ibid., May 31, 1909, p. 1; "Japan Sends Naval Cadets," New York Times, March 15, 1909, p. 4; "Japanese Ships Arrive," Ibid., April 26, 1909.

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